An Exploration of the Symbols and Process Through the Portal of Scorpio
By Marlene Seven Bremner
Introduction - The Art Between Death and the Devil
The Cross Rose in the Garden of Venus (oil on canvas, 2016) was started in Scorpio 2015, when I was becoming intimate with the Death and Devil cards of the Tarot, ruminating on time, Saturn/Cronos, mortality/immortality, death/resurrection, limitations, collective primal fears, and the earth element. The Death card (XIII), pictured by a dancing skeleton with a scythe (Thoth deck), relates directly to Scorpio, which is ruled by Mars in its lowest expression. Both the sign and the card contain the idea of death and resurrection. In Scorpio lies the greatest potential for transformation, and its lessons run deep. It manifests in three forms, beginning as the scorpion with its poisonous sting and self-destructive nature (learning to transmute the venom), becoming the serpent (deepening knowledge of the true self through the process of life and death), and in its highest realization, taking flight as the eagle or phoenix (overcoming the lesser self, or resurrection). In alchemy, Scorpio correlates to the process of separation, or the filtering out of contaminants that hinder spiritual evolution. Scorpio invites us into the depths so we can isolate the pure from the impure, allowing for consciousness to germinate. Similarly, some schools of alchemical thought associate Scorpio with the process of putrefaction, in which chemical reactions occur that lead to new life. As a fixed water sign, Scorpio can be envisioned as ice, or melting ice when transformation is taking place. I wondered what it takes to melt that ice, and what is it within myself that needs to be separated out?
Seeking more solid ground, I began exploring Scorpio's opposite sign of Taurus, which a fixed earth sign ruled by Venus. Taurus, in alchemical terms, relates to the process of Congelation, which has to do with the union of the fixed and volatile. It is the final repatterning or refinement of the psyche in which the awareness of one's divine nature becomes unshakeable. I was interested in how to attain this in myself, and then, how to share my experience. Finding myself stuck in a cycle of repeated confrontations with the same limitations, internally and externally, I was determined to find the way out of the waters—to die, and be reborn within the solidified awareness of my divinity. The Venusian energy, to be explored further on, seemed to be a key to the unlocking of this process.
In the Tarot, the Devil card relates to our shadows and the fight against evil, and corresponds to the earthy Capricorn, sign of the goat, and the archangel Lucifer. One night, on the full moon, I found myself with a large sketchpad and charcoal stick, spontaneously drawing the face of a goat within a diamond. This was the original vision, but it wasn't a complete picture yet. As I began to shine light into the caverns of my being, understanding more and more of what this vision wanted to become in the world, I realized that the confrontation with the Devil revealed a journey. There was no way to understand it but to submit myself to the flames and be transformed.
Time went on, Scorpio gave way to Sagittarius, then Capricorn. It was 2016 now in the sign of the Devil, and the muse was nowhere to be found, leaving me unable to paint or make any progress on the goat painting. I was burning up and experiencing intense emotional distress, which, according to Jungian ideology, is like the crisis at the last stage of letting go of a neurosis. Marie Louis von Franz (1980), Carl Jung's student and assistant and a psychoanalyst herself, described it as the Devil making his last desperate attack (upon the psyche) on the threshold of healing. I knew that despite my torment, I was getting closer. The vision was developing, and I became captivated with the mystical innocence of the Markhor goat, choosing this as my representation of the Devil. The contrast of this white wizardly creature with the darkness of Scorpio, Death, and the Devil held within it the promise of redemption, or the albedo (whitening) of the alchemical process, which follows the nigredo (blackening). I picked up the brushes again and made some progress as I descended through seemingly infinite layers of hell in the months of February and March. As I emerged, I turned my attention to other projects and didn't return to the goat until the time of Libra, under the auspices of Venus's energy once again. Scorpio provided the energy needed to complete the cycle that had started a year prior, and for the final elements of the composition to reveal themselves to me. I finished the painting in the early part of Sagittarius, the sign associated with the Art card (XIV) and the ability to merge opposites. As the Archer (Sagittarius) lifted his bow, shooting his arrow along the pathway between Death and the Devil, into the rainbow (the peacock's tail) that signifies the coming of dawn and the fixation of the alchemical work, I made the final brushstrokes.
An Overview of the Painting
The painting depicts a markhor goat lying on a floating altar surrounded by a starry darkness. He rests upon a soft tapestry decorated with magical symbols, his body blocking the path of a red, serpentine carpet, which extends and disappears into the heart of the constellation Scorpius. The painting can be divided into two halves from left to right, light and dark, virtuous and corrupt, life and death, etc. The goat points the way into the left side of the painting toward a magical, living garden rich with foliage. A pearly white hand emerges from a mossy mound, suggesting the purity of the five elements of ether, air, fire, water and earth. Two flowers, one red and one blue, act as receiver and transformer, respectively, for life energy that is carried by the wind. After the transformation, the life energy is turned into the pure light of the stars. Fires blaze in the distance, melting the icy mountain that emerges from behind the goat, releasing streams that flow through the garden, their blue waters falling down into the abyss. Smoke from the fires rises and twists itself into a tree with many branches, culminating in a white rose moon that illuminates the garden.
On the right side of the painting we see a more barren landscape covered by five large figs, a pile of gold coins, and seven robed figures. In the background is a fig tree rising into the starry heavens above. The goat sits between these two sides of the Garden of Venus, pointing in the direction of highest attainment, having thus tasted of the figs of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Lucifer, Venus, and the Heart
The Latin name Lucifer means “light-bearer” or “light-bringing” and refers to the planet Venus, which appears in the Eastern skies just before dawn and heralds the returning light of day. This bright luminary is also called the Morning Star, Stella Matutina, Phosphorus (Greek), or the “bringer of dawn.” Venus embodies the energy of the mystic nature and the qualities of love and beauty. The horns of Lucifer correspond in kind to the cows horns appearing on the crown of Isis (or Aset, Ast, Iset), the Egyptian “queen of heaven” (Blavatsky, 1888, p. 91), as well as the horns of the Bull of Taurus.
Venus has the additional name of Evening Star, or Hesperus to the Greeks, referring to the planet when it appears in the Western skies after sundown. Here it is that Venus-Lucifer plays the opposite role—leading us into the darkness of night. Therefore Venus-Lucifer has a dual nature and can be both the tempter who beckons us into the sparkling jewels of the night—the seven planets and the twelve Zodiac—as well as the redeemer who dispels the darkness and brings the sun, the resurrected light. Venus is the gateway between the upper and lower worlds, as well as the key to unlock the secret chambers of the heart. Shining through the eyes of the Luciferian goat, Venus calls on you to reside in the emerald splendor of Love over all else—love of the joys, love of the sorrows, love of the demons that descend in the night, love of the losses as well as the gains, and in this way to be freed from the polarization of the opposites.
In the story of Psyche and Cupid, we find the issue of divine love versus earthly love, the higher and lesser aspects of Venus. Cupid, the son of Venus (the Divine Mother), finds Psyche asleep in the Garden of Venus, and in his weakness as a mortal, he desires to chain her to earth. He touches her lips with the bitter waters of illusion, and she wakes only to spill the sweet waters of eternal life upon him, wounding herself with her own arrow in the process. The bitterness of earthly love awakens the soul to the possibility of Divine Love. The immortal nature of love scares Cupid away, for this Divine Love is the highest expression of the fire element, and no earthly attachments can withstand its flames. In this calling to Divine Love is a warning, for the splendor and beauty of the dove’s liberated flight may lead one as close as the doorstep of heaven, only to fall prey to the allure of earthly love again. There is many a trick upon the path, and not all that glitters is Gold.
In the Qabalistic tradition, the Hebrew letter attributed to the planet Venus is Daleth, which means “door,” and corresponds to the number four. In this sense, Venus is a door or a “gateway” between states of consciousness. The number four also implies the four elements of air, fire, water, and earth, corresponding as well to the four lower chakras (heart, solar plexus, sacral, and root). The heart chakra, called Anahata in Sanskrit, which translates to “unhurt, unstuck, or unbeaten,” is the fourth chakra of the human body and is located at the center of the chest near the heart. It is ruled by the planet Venus and vibrates to the color green. This chakra correlates to the air element and the qualities of love, giving and receiving, compassion, self-love, empathy, receptivity, and the sense of touch.
The number four relates further to the fourth Tarot card, known as The Empress (Atu III), that divine mother of earthly nature. She represents the positive side of nature in her generative aspects and is also an expression of Isis, using Venus as her symbol. Israel Regardie, author of The Golden Dawn, refers to her, saying, “the Empress, whose letter is Daleth, is the Door of the inner mysteries, as Venus is the door of the Vault. Her colours are emerald, sky-blue, blue-green and cerise or rose-pink” (1989, p. 589). In The Book of Thoth, Crowley explains that “on the Tree of Life, Daleth is the path leading from Chokmah to Binah, uniting the Father with the Mother. Daleth is one of the three paths which are altogether above the Abyss. There is furthermore the alchemical symbol of Venus, the only one of the planetary symbols which comprises all the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life. The doctrine implied is that the fundamental formula of the Universe is Love” (p. 75).
The symbol for Venus, a circle mounted on a cross, is the only planetary symbol that “embraces the whole Tree of Life, revealing that compassion or love is that fiery force which binds together through an orderly growth and progression the whole Sephirotic Scheme into a Unity” (Regardie, 1989, p. 275). The path of Venus, therefore, is none other than the path of the tree of life itself, providing us the light necessary to ascend the tree from its base in Malkuth, the lowest of the ten Sephiroth and the Kingdom of Earth, to Tipareth in the heart, across the Abyss (Daath), and to the Crown, or Kether. Venus, once realized fully within the heart, is the universal love that seeks to be of service to all life.
The heart chakra is the gateway to understanding universal oneness and divine love. It rests as the central chakra between the higher chakras (throat, third eye, and crown), and lower chakras of the body (solar plexus, sacral, and root), forming a gateway between the earthly and spiritual realms. Therefore Venus relates to our earthly existence, yet also offers us a path to the understanding of our true spiritual nature. According to Helena Petrovna Blavatksy, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, “Venus, or Lucifer, the planet, is the light-bearer of our Earth, in both a physical and mystical sense.… Thus Earth is the adopted child and younger brother of Venus.”
Lucifer the Tempter and the Forbidden Fruit
Lucifer corresponds to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, luring humanity away from our innate union with the divine. He offers us the knowledge of self, which requires a separation from the participation mystique of the undifferentiated consciousness. To eat of the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is to embark on a journey of self-knowledge to ultimately attain divine wisdom. We see in the painting a fig tree and five ripe figs. Four of these figs have been bitten into, implying the four aspects/elements of life that have been tasted—thought (air), action/intuition (fire), emotions (water), and the physical body (earth). The fifth, unbitten fig relates to the fifth element of spirit, the quintessence, and the eternal, uncompromised nature of the self, the ultimate truth of our being.
The fig also points to the sexual-spiritual energy that rests coiled up like a serpent at the base of the spine, also known as kundalini (Sanskrit). This energy can be coaxed to ascend the tree of life up the spinal column (our central nervous system), ultimately reaching the crown of the head and illuminating consciousness. This is the path of the redeemer or messiah, the sushumna nadi, returning us to our true nature, a unified state with heaven, or enlightenment.
When kundalini lies dormant and unrealized, it has a destructive effect upon the self. Here we return to the theme of Scorpio. As previously mentioned, Lucifer blocks the path of the red carpet, which extends into the distance and trails off into the upper end of the Scorpio constellation. The scorpion, sometimes called the “backbiter,” is known as the “spinal fire” in the Egyptian mysteries because it represents the corrosive nature of the unawakened kundalini. If this energy is allowed to collect at the base of the spine, it changes from being the serpent of wisdom to a self-destructive fire that consumes, rather than illuminates, the self. This energy is akin to the monster Typhon of the Greeks, the god Set of the Egyptians, or Judas Iscariot in the New Testament. Scorpius is home to the star Antares, also known as the “heart of the Scorpion." The fiery red light of Antares has been called the worst light in the heavens, and it is considered the deputy of Mars (ruling planet of Scorpio). In the painting this star is opposing the white rose moon and the attainment of divine love. Lucifer-Venus, between these opposing lights, rests as an obstacle in the way of our forgetting. Gently nudging us in the direction of love and the true desires of the heart, he shows us how to open the gateway into another dimension of being, one in which our serpentine power is rising beyond the heart and into the crown.
The Seven Luminaries and the Path of Venus
Seeming to emerge from the roots of the tree and the figs themselves, we see seven tiny figures that correspond to the seven luminaries, or planets. The Moon is leading the way in a silver robe, then Mercury in blue, Venus in green, the Sun in yellow, Mars in red, Jupiter in violet, and Saturn in gray/black. These seven planets are walking the Path of Venus, and their energies preside over the seven chakras.
The moon corresponds to the third eye, our psychic chakra located in the center of the forehead. The Moon here is portrayed in a masculine aspect, perhaps akin to the Egyptian god of the moon, Khonsu, who looks over those traveling at night. This moon figure is cloaked in silver and approaches the decorative altar carpet. Before him there is a yellow pathway that creates a bridge between two suns, one setting and one rising. The red pincers of the scorpion line the path, which also leads through the horns of the goat. The moon, in its reflection of the sun’s faraway light, provides us with the light that we need to traverse the darkness. If the adept can make it across this bridge, there awaits a serpent at the other end, ready to initiate the ultimate transformation, bringing the seeker beyond the realms of duality—good vs. evil, light vs. dark, life vs. death, etc. If we continue beyond the serpent, and follow the direction of Lucifer’s right hoof, we see the path of transformation leads through the elements in their pure expressions–earth (vegetation), water (ice melting and streams flowing), fire (burning in the distance), and air (smoke rising into the darkness). The smoke forms a tree that culminates in a white rose-moon (Kether on the Tree of Life).
Following the Moon we find Mercury represented as a pious nun, looking down as she walks away from the earthly temptations in search of a higher truth. Mercury rules over the throat chakra and the expression of the self. It is through renouncing the personal, egoic self and surrendering to the will of the higher self, or the godhead, that we attain true awakening.
Venus comes next in her green dress, lost in the romancing white light of the rose moon. She is in the phase of initial fascination with the divine, and hasn’t yet understood how she will ever reach it. In her longing she forgets her wholeness, for she has not yet emptied her heart of its holdings.
The Sun is personified as a yellow-robed woman, gazing down lustfully at piles of gold coins, symbols of enlightenment and earthly temptations. If the higher will is present, gold brings awakening and eternal consciousness, however if the personal will has corrupted the soul one will be prey to the “fool’s gold” of personal glory. The Sun has a dual aspect, relating to both the crown chakra and the divine will and our highest self, as well as to the solar plexus chakra and the personal will.
Mars is the next luminary, cloaked in red and directly connected to the sumptuous flesh of the figs. It governs the solar plexus in its fiery aspect, and the symbol of Mars upon his crown points up along the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil towards Antares. This luminary stands above a skull with injuries sustained to both the third eye and crown chakra, symbolizing the effect on the higher chakras when the kundalini is left undeveloped.
The next figure is Jupiter, wearing violet robes and a royal hood of white rays. Jupiter rules the sacral, or water, chakra. Traditionally Jupiter is a male archetype, however here it is a young woman with an expression of innocent wonder. Roots rise up from her back, resembling wings. This female Jupiter stands close behind the largest of the figs, signifying the planets rulership as the largest planet in our Solar System. This luminary seems to emerge from the purple flesh of the fig, of which Crowley says “is Jupiterian because of its soft, swollen and, so the speak, sensual pulp; and also perhaps because of its rich purple colour, suggesting Episcopal vestments” (1912, pg. 99). While Jupiterian energy can be expansive and royal, it is prone to indulgence and excess. It is also associated with an immersion in the unconscious and lunar consciousness, as well as the expression of long-buried emotions (Hauck, 1999, p. 158).
Saturn, who seems to be part of the roots themselves, is the final luminary and bears the mark of infinity. Saturn, known as Cronus or Kronos to the Greeks, is the planet that rules over the root chakra where the kundalini energy rests. It is through the limitations and sufferings of this Saturnian energy imposed on our physical existence that the soul is pushed to reach for something higher. These seven planets relate to different potentials and pitfalls of each energy center in the human body. When we understand these seven celestial bodies and their relationship to the human body, we are given the seven keys to unlock the truth of our eternal, unified consciousness. Venus is the key that unlocks the heart, the gateway between the lower, earthly chakras, and the higher, spiritual centers.
The Cross Rose: Death, Resurrection, and Alchemy
The Cross Rose refers to both the crossroads between earth and heaven meeting in the heart, as well as the Rose Cross of the Rosicrucians. This symbol has twenty-two petals that correlate to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the paths of the Tree of Life. These twenty-two petals are divided into three rings: the outer most ring has twelve petals signifying the Zodiac, followed by a ring of seven petals denoting the planets, then a ring of three which indicates the holy trinity, or the three principles of alchemy (sulfur, salt, and mercury). A small, red, five-petaled rose is centered within a yellow cross, symbolic again of the five elements and the five-pointed star, the microcosm of humanity, and the Sacred Heart or the heart of Christ. Israel Regardie describes the Rose Cross as “the symbol for the Microcosm—Man, the Adept, he to whom perfection of the Microcosm means a certain conscious union with the Macrocosm.” (1971, p. 473). Like Venus, the Rose Cross is a combination of passion and purity, the red and the white, the first and last stage of the Magnum Opus. It is the transcendent love and divine wisdom united in one symbol. Within its layers of meaning there lies a map to self-realization, and it all takes place within the heart.
The themes of temptation and redemption, or death and resurrection, are aspects on the path of the initiate, or the hero on the quest for the grail. It is at the crossroads that the hero is faced with a choice: to carry on in the pursuit of divine wisdom, or to remain in the suffering and ignorance of earthly existence. In alchemy this is like distillation, in which a substance is separated into its different components to extract its pure essence and filter out the impurities. Distillation removes the dross, or unnecessary elements and leaves a concentration of the purified substance. The process of the liquid becoming a gas is like a death where the spirit seems to disappear, and when it reconstitutes in a more purified form through condensation, it is thereby resurrected. The alchemist goes through this process of dying and rebirth as they transform the impurities of the psyche.
Transmutation of the soul involves a necessary confrontation with hidden dragons, or corrupted aspects of the self. It requires casting a net into the vast sea of the unconscious mind, and seeing what comes out. Time and again the alchemist will be faced with the fiercest of dragons, but if the flames and torment are endured, they will transform into a peaceful clarity. Here we return to the nigredo and albedo of alchemy. The nigredo is a period of intense suffering, depression, melancholy and terror that the alchemist encounters during the Great Work of transmuting the self. Often it follows a period of initial enlightenment before the soul is sufficiently purified to retain the light. Johannes Fabricius (1994) elucidates the nigredo in the following passage:
“In the nigredo the alchemist becomes aware that the power he has gained is Janus-faced and that the stone is capable of exercising both a divine and demonic force. Superhuman in potency, the reborn alchemist suddenly topples from his throne, his universe turned upside-down in the process. Known to the Greeks as peripeteia, or the 'reversal of roles,' this principle of irony and paradox is overwhelming in its operation in hermetic science: that which has been worhipped as holy becomes in the twinkling of an eye a monstrous horror; the cup with the elixir of life turns into a deadly poison." (p. 98).
In most cases, a dragon, or corrupted aspect of the self, will not readily transform even once it is identified. It takes active work in the three realms of body, mind, and spirit. Von Franz (1980) wrote that “many repetitions are required before the experience is consolidated, until finally the work holds" (p. 223). The process of individuation—self-realization—happens in layers and often involves repeated confrontations with the same complex of unconscious contents. The descent into the nigredo is like the fall from the Garden of Eden. It is a process of self-knowledge in which redemption is found through spiritual integration. Just as energy can neither be created nor destroyed, we can never truly destroy an aspect of the self. We can only transmute it. This is the Great Work, which reveals itself in the physical, mental, and emotional distress and euphoria experienced throughout life as the dragons are transformed into swans. The Venus-Lucifer archetype is a beneficent teacher, guiding humanity from its earthly suffering to the truth of eternal love.
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